President Biden on Wednesday hosted a series of Oval Office meetings with Democrats as he seeks to salvage his legislative agenda from in-fighting that could derail his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion bundle of tax hikes and social spending.
Moderates including Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), who are threats to the larger bill, met with Biden ahead of an evening White House gathering with progressives such as Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), whose “Squad” allies have embraced an all-or-nothing stance ahead of an anticipated Monday vote on the smaller bill.
Biden also convened Democratic leaders — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — and invited senators including moderate Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) and socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
At least publicly, Democrats presented the discussions as a positive step — but they come as Biden’s political capital reaches an early-term low, with disapproval ratings soaring as COVID-19 cases and deaths rebound in the aftermath of last month’s chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan.
Gottheimer, the co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said in a statement that “[i]t was the ultimate problem solving session, but we still have work to do. We’ve got a hectic few days ahead.”
But Pocan said on CNN, “Monday is a very arbitrary date. If it takes another week, even another two weeks to get this done right, we’re all working together. I don’t think this is a battle among moderates and progressives. This is a battle to make sure that we get the president’s agenda done.”
One moderate GOP lawmaker with knowledge of the discussions said they expect Monday to be chaotic, telling The Post it’s “high stakes poker.”
“Dems have only chance at this — better play it right,” they said. “Biden is putting major pressure on, I hear.”
Republican leaders in the House are encouraging a “no” vote on the bipartisan bill, which passed the Senate 69-30, with 19 Republicans voting in favor.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is rallying his party against the bill, meaning there may not be enough Republican votes to help it pass if leftists led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) make good on threats to oppose the bill unless the more massive social-spending bill passes first.
The infrastructure bill in theory is paid for but the Congressional Budget Office said it includes $250 billion in unfunded spending — fueling conservative concern about the national debt and worsening inflation.
The infrastructure bill would be a major legacy-defining victory for Biden, whose predecessor Donald Trump frequently floated his eagerness to broker a landmark bill to improve critical physical infrastructure such as bridges and airports. But the bill’s failure would be badly embarrassing for Biden, a former seven-term senator who prides himself on having been able to pass legislation in the past.
The $3.5 trillion bill, meanwhile, would set up massive new social programs funded by tax increases on businesses and the wealthy — as Biden reaches even further for a legacy in the mold of FDR and Lyndon B. Johnson, who passed major welfare-state programs.
The larger bill can pass the Senate with a bare majority under special budget reconciliation rules, but Biden cannot lose a single Democratic vote in the evenly divided chamber — or more than a handful of Democrat in the House — meaning the bill is likely to get a substantial rewrite that shrinks the price tag, if it passes at all.
The pair of Biden bills are reaching their endgame as Republicans resist a Democratic push to suspend the ceiling for the national debate. The impasse could result in a partial government shutdown next week.